Illegitimi non carborundum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down". Carborundum, also known as silicon carbide, is an industrial abrasive material, but its name resembles a Latin gerundive.


The phrase originated during World War II. Lexicographer Eric Partridge attributes it to British army intelligence very early in the war (using the plural dative/ablative illegitimis). The phrase was adopted by US Army general "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell as his motto during the war.[1] It was later further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.[2]

The phrase is also used as the first line of one of the extra cod Latin verses added in 1953 to an unofficial school song at Harvard University: Ten Thousand Men of Harvard. This, the most frequently played Fight song of the Harvard Marching Band, is, to some extent, a parody of more solemn school songs like "Fair Harvard thy sons to your Jubilee throng" etc. The first verse goes:

Illegitimum non carborundum;
Domine salvum fac.
Illegitimum non carborundum;
Domine salvum fac.
Gaudeamus igitur!
Veritas non sequitur?
Illegitimum non carborundum—ipso facto![3]

The phrase is also used as part of a student painted crest on the bottom floor of Hodge Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary.

A wooden plaque bearing the phrase sits prominently on the desk of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.[4]


There are many variants of the phrase, such as

  • Non illegitimae carborundum'
  • Noli illegitimi carborundum
  • Nil illegitimi carborundum
  • Non illegitimis carborundum
  • Illegitimi nil carborundum
  • Nil bastardo carborundum
  • Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
  • Nil carborundum ab illegitimati
  • Illegitimis non carborundum
  • Nil illegitimo in desperandum carborundum
  • Nil carborundum illegitamae
  • Nolite Illegitimos Conterere Vos
  • Non carborundum bastardum

None of these variants is 'legitimate' Latin any more than the original. Carborundum is a noun and not a gerundive of any verb (although it does look like a gerundive). Also 'bastard' in Latin is spurius[5] (another Latin word for bastard is nothus, but it is very uncommon).[6] The two most common variations translate as follows: illegitimi non carborundum = the unlawful are not silicon carbide, illegitimis non carborundum = the unlawful don't have silicon carbide.

"Bastards" is often used in English as a generic derogatory term, not necessarily relating to the marital status of one's parents.[7]

Use as a motto[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Nil Carborundum, title of a 1962 play and TV comedy by Henry Livings.[8]
  • Nil bastardi carborundum" is referenced in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon
  • Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, in The Handmaid's Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood.
  • Illegitimi non carborundum, in Lucifer's Hammer (1977) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Nil illegitimo carborundum is a maxim credited to the fictional philosopher Didactylos in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods.
  • Non Illegitimus Carborundum is the school motto of the fictional girl's school St. Trinian's, appearing on the school's coat of arms.
  • Illegitimis non Carborundum is printed on a banner in the artwork for The Toasters' 7th studio album Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down and Dee Snider's solo album Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down.
  • Nil carborundum illegitimus is a phrase (sometimes abbreviated N.C.I) used by Kath Lewis in Donald Jack's novels Three Cheers for Me and That's Me in the Middle.
  • Nil carborundum illegitimis is said by Landon Kettlewell in Cory Doctorow's Makers[9]
  • Spoken by "Ozzie", protagonist of the 1997 Patrick Stewart film Masterminds.
  • "Don't let the bastards grind you down" last phrase of Motörhead's "(Don't Let 'Em) Grind Ya Down" song from the Iron Fist album.
  • "So don't let the bastards grind you down" is the chorus of the song Acrobat, by U2.
  • Inscribed on a watch given by Michael Mates MP, to Asil Nadir of Polly Peck fame.
  • Mentioned in Rihanna's song "Cheers".
  • Mentioned with translation by the Member of Parliament for Twickenham Toby Jessel in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on June 7, 1993.[10]
  • Mentioned in the TV show The OC by Taylor Townsend at the end of her graduation speech.[11]
  • Mentioned by Premier of Newfoundland, Danny Williams in reference to a power deal with Nalcor Energy on February 20, 2009.[12]
  • Mentioned in the final episode "Richie" of the Australian TV series The Slap (2011)
  • Spoken by Robin Williams at the end of his acceptance speech for the Icon Award at The Comedy Awards 2012[citation needed].
  • "Illegitimi non carborundum" said by the main character of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs.
  • Charlie Daniels utters the phrase "Non illegimotus carborundem" at the beginning of his song "The Pope and the Dope"
  • The phrase appears in graffiti on the wall in the 2012 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Coriolanus, just as the main character Coriolanus (actor Ralph Fiennes) delivers the lines 67-76 of Act 1, scene 7 to the soldiers before his first fight with Aufidius (Gerard Butler)
  • In Third Watch Doc's father has a wall plaque that reads Illegitimi non carborundum. Translated as "don't let the bastards get you down" by Doc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Why Do We Say ...?, Nigel Rees, 1987, ISBN 0-7137-1944-3
  2. ^ Illegitimi Non Carborundum page[dead link], at Santa Cruz Public Libraries ready reference, quoting William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary
  3. ^ Primus V (2012) Ipso facto!. Harvard Magazine, November-December (Accessed April 2013)
  4. ^ nycsouthpaw. "The 10 Most Interesting Things On John Boehner's Desk". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  5. ^ JM Latin English Dictionary. "spurius meaning". Latin Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  6. ^ Chambers Murray Latin Dictionary, page 468
  7. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), pp. 36f
  8. ^ Nil Carborundum (TV 1962) – IMDb
  9. ^ Cory Doctorow. "Makers". Tor Books. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  10. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 7 Jun 1993". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  11. ^ "Taylor Townsend - The O.C. (Season 3) | Planet Claire Quotes". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  12. ^ Terry Roberts (20 February 2009). "Williams hopes Harper takes a few tips from Obama". Retrieved 2010-04-15. 

External links[edit]